SAG-AFTRA has filed a brief with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in support of Ashley Judd’s lawsuit against Harvey Weinstein. Judd sued Weinstein for sexual harassment and defamation in April 2018, but in January, U.S. District Judge Philip Gutierrez in January dismissed her sexual harassment claim against the disgraced producer, but allowed her to pursue her claim that Weinstein tried to ruin her career after she rejected his sexual advances.
Judd was one of the original Weinstein accusers whose stories launched the #MeToo movement. Weinstein is currently facing trial in New York on separate criminal charges, to which he has pleaded not guilty.
Gutierrez’s dismissal of Judd’s sexual harassment claim rests on his reading of California Civil Code § 51.9, which allows for a cause of action for sexual harassment to be brought where there is “a business, service, or professional relationship between the plaintiff and defendant.” The code was amended last September to include relationships with directors and producers, but the judge ruled that the change could not be applied retroactively in Judd’s case.
In dismissing her sexual harassment claim, Gutierrez ruled that Judd’s relationship with Weinstein was not covered by the law because it was “fundamentally centered around employment or potential employment,” rather than a “business, service or professional relationship.”
In its brief filed with the appellate court, SAG-AFTRA disagreed, arguing that meetings between actors and producers are a common way of establishing and growing business and professional relationships within the entertainment industry and are not akin to job interviews.
“As we have seen over the last two years, as brave actors such as Judd have spoken out about abuse at the hands of powerful industry gatekeepers, the nature of today’s entertainment industry leaves actors, particularly those who have not attained celebrity status, vulnerable to abuse,” the union said in a statement. “Weinstein was one of the most successful producers of his time, and the stories recounted in the media over the last two years make clear the power that Hollywood gatekeepers like him wield and the harm they can cause those who deny their unwanted sexual advances. Judd and many others have good reason to believe their careers and reputations suffered as a result of denying or reporting an abuser’s advances.
“SAG-AFTRA explained to the court that the entertainment industry is one in which meetings and relationships between vastly unequal participants play a significant role. It is in the context of these meetings that Section 51.9 is intended to operate. It is also in this context that SAG-AFTRA’s members are most likely to be harmed by the court’s holding that the law does not apply. SAG-AFTRA is continuing its ongoing efforts to fight sexual harassment in the entertainment industry and permanently change the culture that allows it to continue, utilizing all the tools available to the union.”
SAG-AFTRA supported the 2018 legislation that amended the code, and says it “shared Judd’s understanding that directors and producers already were encompassed within the broad phrase ‘business, service or professional relationship.’ This interpretation is clear throughout the legislative history of the bill, which said these relationships were added simply to draw attention to specific problematic categories. In fact, the State Senate filed a brief of its own to address this very point.”